Sun Microsystems, hunting for a home for Java2 Micro Edition (J2ME), has found one in wireless handsets.
Sun and more than 20 partners announced this week the availability of the MID (Mobile Internet Device) profile, through which they hope to establish an early presence in the wireless data market. Newton, Mass.-based Cahners In-Stat Group predicts the number of MID subscribers will grow to more than 1.3 billion in 2004, with sales of more than 1.5 billion wireless handsets, PDAs (personal digital assistants), and Internet appliances.
Built on top of J2ME, MID enables what the companies claim are dynamic, interactive services on mobile devices to be built by companies such as Motorola, Nokia, and Siemens. Device makers say they will be available by year's end.
"Manufacturers will have the same MID, but what they build on top of it will differentiate their offerings," said Eric Chu, group marketing manager at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun's software systems group.
Although both MID on J2EE and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) are designed to bring data services to wireless devices, they are intended to be complementary, as WAP is a transport mechanism and J2ME is an execution piece.
Chu continued to say that the devices will be used for dynamically generated, personalized tasks: for instance, to request stock quotes that can display graphs and give purchase alerts and sell alerts at specified price points, or traffic reports that offer alternate routes in the event of congestion.
But wireless handsets need to evolve further before they will be capable of such tasks, said David Jackson, senior analyst at Cahners In-Stat. "Java's requirements exceed what today's handsets deliver," he said.
Analysts said there are several advantages to using Java in wireless devices, including the facts that it overcomes low bandwidth hurdles, can provide end-to-end security, alleviates memory constraints, and is scalable.
"End-users feel like the whole app is there, but it is just one piece [of the application] at a time, so memory is not an issue. The device knows what piece is needed next and calls it up as it needs it," said Gerald Wluka, vice president of business development at AppStream, in Palo Alto, Calif.
AppStream this week will reveal a collaboration with Seoul, South Korea-based LG TeleCom to enable delivery of dynamic Java technology-based applications on LG's next generation of ez-i handsets.
Another company building J2ME applications for wireless devices is San Francisco-based Bonita Software, which is beta testing products that convert Java applications on the back end for J2ME, according to Graham Poor, CTO.
Cahners In-Stat's Jackson said that Sun and its partners will not be alone in chasing this market space. Some vendors, he said, are looking at using San Francisco-based Macromedia's Flash and other programs in wireless handsets, though he declined to name them.
"There are a number of folks that will come out with totally new platforms," he said.
Cathleen Moore contributed to this report.
The MID profile for J2ME was developed as part of the Java Community Process by the following companies.
* America Online
* NTT DoCoMo
* Palm Computing